Monty Don on Scythes

In his new book ‘Down to Earth' Monty Don has commented: "You don't have to use a machine - scythes cut grass very well." This observation has sparked a surprisingly reactionary response from fellow gardening correspondents and garden machinery representatives. They have described scything as a back breaking task using a huge and lethal dangerous weapon !!!

Monty's assertion that scythes cut grass very well is factually true; it is indeed quite possible to mow a lawn with a scythe. Mowing lawns with a scythe is a particular pleasure requiring very little physical effort as lawn grass is short, light-weight, soft and mows sweetly.

A scythe is a remarkably ergonomic tool. Properly set up and used they are good exercise for all parts of the body, including the back and core muscles. Scythe use actually avoids health issues associated with petrol machines (particularly strimmers) such as hearing loss, white finger from vibration, musculoskeletal damage from bad posture and lifting.

Monty and many other British scythe users of all ages have rediscovered the pleasure of this for themselves in recent years. Scythes are not necessarily a replacement for a lawn mower but rather a worthy addition to the garden tool shed. They are the best tool for mowing wild flower meadows and long grass, but are also handy for a range of other tasks from topping lawns to trimming weeds and areas around allotments and fruit beds.

Can a scythe mow a lawn as well as a lawn mower? The answer to this depends in part on what you would like to get from your lawn.

EG22c 2009

Garden designer Dan Pearson has written about the folly of trying to maintain pristine bowling green type close cropped turf in domestic gardens. "Lawns are high maintenance and if you choose to aspire to a weed- and moss-free sward, you will have to employ a considerable gambit of chemicals to keep them that way"

To create an actual bowling green or a croquet lawn as a playing surface with a cut height of 10mm or less requires a huge investment in inputs and ongoing maintenance including mowing on a daily basis. A scythe is not suited to this task (but then neither are most domestic lawn mowers).

For most garden lawns what most people want is ground cover that is green, soft and welcoming. It needs to be moderately resilient and not onerous to maintain. If you can let yourself take a more relaxed approach to lawn maintenance you will be rewarded. (see lawn maintenance for more on this)

• raise the cutting height above 30mm so the grass is less stressed,
• let go of any notions of keeping up with the Jones's regular stripes, and
• be laid back about your mowing schedule to encourage daisies, selfheal, cowslips       and other wild flowers to grow and flower.

EL1 Flowering Lawn

This relaxed lawn maintenance approach is generally straight forward with a rotary mower but cylinder mowers (particularly the push variety) will struggle with longer grass should you miss a cut or two because of wet weather, whilst you are away on holiday, or after letting flowers bloom. A scythe is a useful tool for trimming back overgrown lawns; in this context, it makes a perfect partner to a hand pushed cylinder mower if you want to combine the best of both tools without an engine.

Beyond the simple practical usefulness of the scythe as tool to mow grass, it is the unexpected pleasure people get from using a scythe well which grabs them, and which inspires writers from Monty Don to Tolstoy to enthusiastically extol the virtue and joy of the scythe.

To see a longer version of this article go to

Posted on 20 October 2017,
Category: News